Tuesday, January 01, 2013

The most important question you should ask in 2013

Many organizations get caught up in a “sell at all cost” mentality. Desperate to close a deal, they chase every suspect whether the opportunity is real or not. The result is a pipeline clogged with phantom opportunities that suck your resources and go nowhere.

You can appreciate how dire the problem is when you realize that most opportunities end up with no action rather than a win or loss. By the time you figure out the deal is dead, you have expanded considerable resources that could have been used to work better-qualified prospects. As one successful VP of Sales said to me: “I don’t mind losing a deal, but I want to lose quickly!”

Always Be Qualifying
How do you avoid this situation? It goes back to the basics of qualifying the prospect. The “Always Be Closing” mantra is out; “Always Be Qualifying” is the new paradigm for success. 

I have never been a fan of the BANT approach (Budget, Authority, Need, Time). I think it is too generic and I believe the budget question is out of place in most situations until the value of the solution has been proven. 

With that said, I think the ONE question that can help you qualify the opportunity is the timing question. But how you ask the question and how you react to the answer will vary based on the type of solution you sell.

If your solution is in a well-known (post-chasm) category:
For a mature solution category, you definitely want to look for a decision timeframe. If a timeframe has been defined, it means a buying process has been initiated by the buyer. Even if the budget is not yet allocated, the need and the authority are likely well-defined, which should make the sale easier to navigate. If the timing has not been defined, you should continue nurturing the prospect through marketing activities, but you probably don’t want to expand valuable sales resources.

If your solution is in a new (pre-chasm) category:
For a new solution category, you are probably not going to see a defined purchase timeframe. This is going to be a seller-initiated process, which is by far more challenging.

Since the issue is not yet on the agenda, you would have to go high enough in the organization to force a change of priorities. Once you get there, you’d have to prove there is a real need that your solution can satisfy. 

Figuring out the need and getting access to authority require a considerable investment, so you would need to allocate your resources wisely. That’s where the timing question comes to play. It can help you prioritize which prospects may justify the investment. 

The tricky part: how do you define timing for a new solution category?
In most cases, you will not find a predefined timeline for the purchase of a new solution category. Instead, you need to identify a compelling event that would serve as a catalyst for the buyer to take action (e.g., moving to a virtualized environment, launching a new product, expanding to a new territory). Once you identified the compelling event, you need to find out when this event will take place.

One way or the other, the timing question is THE key to qualification.
That’s why regardless of what you sell, the most important question you can ask in order to qualify your prospects is the timing question—whether it’s the decision timeframe for a mature solution or the timing of the compelling event for a new solution.

Happy qualifying!

Sunday, September 09, 2012

SEO: Don’t bet your future on it

Here is a popular recipe for launching a successful B2B software startup:
  1. Build a great product that solves a real problem
  2. Put together an awesome website
  3. Invest in SEO (organic search) and/or PPC (paid search)
  4. Capture tons of leads from your website and close lots of deals
  5. Live happily ever after…
Pretty easy, isn’t it?

If you are lucky enough to have it work that way, power to you! For most of us, reality is a bit more challenging.

#1 goes without saying. I have yet to see a software startup that doesn’t have a great product, at least in the eyes of the founders and funders. That’s a topic for another post, so let’s assume for now it is taken care of.

#2 is obvious. You need a website so people can see how great your product is and how it will make their lives so much better. Some sites are better than others, but most companies can check this point and move on.

#3 and #4 is where things get murky.

But SEO is great, you say, so what could the problem be?

The problem is that SEO is extremely important and valuable when you are fulfilling demand, but has limited value when you are trying to create demand.

Most potential buyers are content with business as usual. They are not searching for solutions. Your challenge is to make them realize the price they are paying for sticking with the status quo and the opportunity they have to improve on business as usual and the associated outcomes.

For that reason, I know very few B2B startups that can fill up their pipeline with enough prospects relying on inbound leads only (be it SEO, PPC, or social media).
Even if you are one of these lucky few, acquiring a new lead is just the beginning. No matter how you get your leads, most of them are not ready to buy today (the statistics say only 5-15% are). The bottom line is that for most startups, SEO alone will not do it.

So what should you do?

Step One: Build a target prospect database

To being with, put together a list of the companies that fit your target buyer profile based on industries, geographies, company size, etc. Knowing these companies by name is the first (and relatively easy) step, but too many companies don’t even do that.

Finding the right contacts within each company would take a more substantial effort. You can do it through content syndication, rental lists, telemarketing, or research tools such as LinkedIn, ZoomInfo, Data.com, and the nifty new LeadSpace. If you get SEO leads, you can add the ones that fit your target profile to your database. 

Any way you do it, acquiring these contact names and their email addresses is an investment. To maximize your ROI, use offers with a broad appeal to capture as many prospects as you can. Surveys and industry benchmarks are great examples of content that generates exceptionally high response rates for lead acquisition.

Step Two: Engage buyers by offering content that delivers value

Once you have the contacts and their email addresses in your database, your next challenge is to establish a dialog and keep prospects engaged until they are ready for a sales conversation.

Think of it as a dating process. It requires patience and perseverance. Trying to rush things will only backfire -- especially beware of the killer demo!

Reach out to your prospects with content that highlights the problems you can help them solve and the opportunities you help them capitalize on (notice I didn’t say product or solution). Case studies and best practices surveys and tips make for good lead nurturing offers.

At the same time, don’t be shy about reaching out to your prospects. As long as you deliver value, more is better!

=> Get practical “how to” tips: Download the eBook

Step Three: Follow up!

We live in a busy world. Even the prospects that are interested in your value proposition are too easily distracted by the day-to-day demands of their jobs. It’s up to you to keep your issue at the top of their agenda.

Too many good lead generation efforts go to waste due to poor follow-up. Some research claims that left to sales, up to 90% of the leads would never be followed up. A hot lead that is not followed up in a timely manner will cool down very quickly. Your ability to reach the prospect can diminish by 50% if you wait just 48 hours, and as much as 90% if you wait a whole week.

One company has seen a dramatic improvement in follow-up success rates by aiming to reach every new lead within 45 minutes. Sounds aggressive, but it works!

You can use tools such as LeadLander or most marketing automation systems to alert your reps when a known prospect is visiting your website, so they can catch these prospects when they are most likely to pick up the phone.

Last but not least, the success of your lead conversion requires complete alignment between marketing and sales. You can read more about it here.

Back to SEO.

No matter how many SEO leads you can get, a solid lead nurturing strategy is a must if you want to create a healthy pipeline that translates to predictable sales growth.

Companies that do it successfully typically follow this 3-step process by actively targeting buyers, engaging them in a dialog, and diligently following up to qualify and convert them into sales opportunities. 

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Can you double your sales this year?


I bet most of you can.

It’s simply physics. You don’t put enough leads at the top of the funnel, you don’t get enough sales at the bottom.

Yes, I am sure you can plug some of the holes in your leaky funnel and improve your conversion rates. But as long as your conversion rate is greater than zero, more leads at the top mean more sales at the bottom.

As a matter of fact, the more leads you pour at the top of the funnel the higher your conversion rate should be. When salespeople have too few prospects to work on, you see the kind of wishful thinking that results in chasing low-probability opportunities and overoptimistic forecasts.

When salespeople have plenty of leads, they can be more selective and focus their time on the higher-probability / higher-value opportunities, which should increase closing rate and average deal size.

So what are some quick ways to generate more leads at the top of the funnel?

First, do more.
If you currently run one campaign a month, do two instead. That will double the number of leads you have. If you do two, make it three. That’s 50% more leads. You get the idea. Don’t be afraid to do more. 

As we have shown before, as long as you deliver value to your audience, touching your contact list more often will actually increase your response rate and decrease the opt-out rate.

Make a schedule and stick to it.
If your plan calls for one campaign a month and you let each campaign slip by just one week, by the time the year is over you have 20% fewer leads.  Ouch!  

Don’t confuse lead generation with selling.
The purpose of lead generation is to create a conversation, not to sell. The most successful lead generation campaigns I have been involved in had little (or nothing) to do with the product we were trying to sell. But they had interesting content that delivered value to our audience and helped our salespeople start a conversation.

Focus on results.
We marketers are often guilty of focusing on making things pretty, clever, “creative.” The cold reality shows us that in most cases these make little to no impact on the results that really matter – number of qualified leads.

Whatever you put in front of your customers and prospects has to be of value to them. But it doesn’t have to be perfect in order to bring value. So when you get to these last tweaks that may push you past the deadline, let it go.

Done is better than perfect.

You can do it on a budget.
Let’s make it clear. You will have to spend money in order to generate leads. You are probably spending money already, so can you generate more leads with the same budget? In many cases the answer is yes.

For example, repackaging an existing piece of content and sending a simple email to promote it will cost you just a fraction compared to a fancy webinar with an industry analyst, yet can generate just as many leads.

I’d be happy to share many more ideas for generating more leads and helping you double your sales. I would be even happier to hear some of your ideas. Just drop me a note or reply with a comment!

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

More Leads for Your Marketing Dollars: Eight New Year Resolutions


My new eBook is about eight things you can do in the New Year that will give your outbound lead generation an immediate boost and stretch your marketing dollars to deliver more for less.

These resolutions are based on lessons learned through experimenting, tinkering, and continually striving to squeeze more qualified responses out of hundreds of email campaigns we execute on behalf of clients each year.

Unlike going on a diet or exercising more, these New Year resolutions are really easy to stick with. As a matter of fact, some of these things probably require less effort (and budget) than what you are doing today!

Click here to get your copy of the eBook.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Before you build your new website… 4 things to keep in mind

  1. Start with a strategy, not design

    Because websites can be very eye pleasing, it is easy to think of them as a design project. In reality, a website is essentially a product that has to be managed accordingly. You need to understand who the users are, how they arrive to your site, and what they are looking for. Based on this analysis, you can come up with your website strategy, messages, calls to action, and conversion paths. Only then is it time to get down to the design.

    Practical tip #1: if your website company is not asking you these questions before starting your website project, that's a red flag.

  2. Don’t fall into the SEO trap

    The most common statement I hear from companies that are looking to build a new website is that they want to improve their search engine positions. While this is a commendable goal, it is not necessarily the one that will get you the most for your investment. This is especially true if you sell a new solution that doesn't fall into a well- established category, which means that you can expect limited search volume. With that in mind, getting the visitors that come to your site to take action (most of them will get there because you have directed them) is probably more important than search engine optimization. See an excellent explanation of the tradeoffs between website conversion and SEO in this Marketing Experiments article (page 68).

    Practical tip #2: don’t count visitors that search for your company name as “search traffic”; it’s just another form of direct traffic.

  3. Measure everything

    A business website should be judged by how well it helps buyers engage with your company, not how “nice” or “cool” it looks. The only way to tell how well your website is working for you is with ongoing measurement of site performance against your goals. Google Analytics is a must and a good starting point, but truly measuring your website's impact requires that you integrate the site with your CRM and/or marketing automation solution.

    What you really care about is how many of your target buyers visit the website and take action on it. Some of the things you would probably want to measure include:
    - Which pages are most visited by target buyers?
    - Which pages lead target buyers to take action (download material, request more information, start an evaluation, etc.)
    - Which offers and content assets lead target buyers to take action?

    Practical tip #3: ClickTale is a nifty service that will help you understand how well your pages are structured. It will show you how visitors interact with each page—where they click, scroll, and hover. You can see some of this information in Google’s In-Page Analytics but it's not as detailed.

  4. Build it for change

    Don't expect to get it perfect the first time. Even if you do, things will undoubtedly change, with new products to promote, new messages to communicate, new competitors to battle… so make sure your website architecture and back-end are agile enough to allow you to make modifications quickly and inexpensively.

    Practical tip #4: Open source Content Management Systems (CMS) have come a long way, providing top-notch functionality and the benefits of a large developer community that continues to improve the system and create new templates and plug-ins. WordPress is my current favorite and seems to be getting a lot of traction with many website developers.

If you have any other thoughts or experiences you can share on building a website, I would love to see your comments! And if you need help with your new website, just drop me a note.


Saturday, March 05, 2011

Nail it Before You Scale It – Take Two

Following my post urging startups to nail it before they scale it, I have had a few interesting conversations on the topic with some of the top marketing and sales minds in the business.

While money is always a constraint for a startup, time can be even scarcer. With that in mind, there is a compelling reason to quickly scale things up to the point where you can validate the market attractiveness of your solution.

This is a strategy that Starbucks has perfected. They keep introducing new products, quickly trimming the ones that don’t do well, and introducing new ones to take their place.

The key to this strategy is the ability to measure success, and quickly. It’s ideal for SaaS solutions, but can be applied with some variations also to on-premise software.

Here are seven ingredients you need to make it happen.

  1. Know what success looks like. As David Skok says in his blog post, the one thing your business will live or die by is your customer acquisition model: who are you targeting, how many of them are there, what will it take you to reach them (in cost and time), what is your expected conversion rate for each stage in the funnel, what is your expected revenue per customer, etc. The model will tell you whether you can make money and how long it will take until you do. The goal of this exercise is to validate the model or revise it based on the data you gather.

  2. Work on a large enough sample. Validating your customer acquisition model is difficult when the model is based on closing two deals a year (no matter how big they are), making it a risky business model. You can still measure conversion at the top of the funnel, but it will not validate the entire model.

  3. Target the right people. If you are targeting the CFO but never get to talk with a CFO, that’s a clear sign of a problematic customer acquisition model. You can’t hope that this problem will just go away. You need to figure out a way to reach the buyer and build the cost and the time it takes into your model.

  4. Separate the product from the pitch. You want to be able to isolate problems with the product from those that have to do with how you pitch it. To do that, you may want to try different variations on the pitch. You can also learn a lot by asking potential buyers why they don’t like your offer enough to buy it now.

  5. Let buyers test drive. There is no better way to give buyers a real idea of the value of your solution, and there is no better way to tell whether they really like it or not (i.e. enough to buy now and convert from a free trial to paid service).

  6. Real-time measurement. The point is to get many ideas tried out in a short timeframe, until you find the one that works. If you have to wait weeks before you see how well things work out (or not) for each idea, you end up spending too much time on each failed path and too little time on new (and potentially better) ideas.

  7. Trust the data. Don’t let wishful thinking get in the way. If your data tells you only one out of ten people will take your offer, this is the number you need to plug into your customer acquisition model. Yes, you should find a way to get more people to respond, but don’t count on it.

I would like to thank Gil Rapaport and Amit Bendov for their invaluable contribution to this post.

And as always, I am curious to know what you think.


Tuesday, February 08, 2011

How Earnix Doubled Its Sales on the Heels of the Financial Crisis

Let’s start with the numbers. Since the financial crisis hit in 2008, Earnix has doubled its sales, doubled the number of customers, and turned profitable.

That’s impressive for any company. It’s even more impressive when you consider that Earnix sells to the world’s largest financial services companies, some of the same companies that have just been battered during the latest financial meltdown.

I asked Earnix CEO David Schapiro to share with us some of the reasons the company has been able to pull off this impressive feat.

Key to success #1: Focus on value to the customer

“From the very beginning of the company we have been intently focused on delivering value to our customers. I realize this is the goal of every company. The unique thing about the Earnix solution is that the value is proven in the very first customer engagement. You can actually see the money coming in to the customer’s bottom line.

We sell our solutions as a subscription, which forces us to continually deliver value. As a matter of fact, we even prove the success before the customer ever pays the subscription. There is no gray area, either it works or it doesn’t.

Our renewal rate is exceptionally high. Customers that have been working with the software have continued to renew their subscriptions even during the most intense period of the financial meltdown.

When the crisis hit, it forced us to be even more focused on customer success. Our people come from the financial services market, so it’s easy for them to align with the goals of the customer. The first thing I did was to get on a plane and go visit our customers. I wanted to hear firsthand what they had to say, and I wanted to make sure we were doing whatever it took to help them out. The good news for Earnix was that what our customers needed the most was a quick way to boost profitability, which is exactly what our solution was able to offer them.”

Key to success #2: Focus on core competencies

“Until 2007-2008 pricing optimization for insurers and banks was evangelistic sales to early adopters, primarily in Europe. Today it has become a mainstream solution in many places. We see it in the number of RFPs that land in our inboxes. We also see it in the number of customers that are willing to be vocal references and the number of partners that are looking to embed Earnix in their enterprise-class solution.

But you have to pay your dues in the financial services marketplace. You are not going to be taken seriously if you haven’t been around for 4-5 years . In the years preceding the crisis, we stayed focused on our core competencies, delivering pricing and customer value optimization solutions to the world’s largest insurance companies and banks. This worked out very well for us, unlike some of our competitors which spread themselves thin and did not survive the crisis.

With the onset of the crisis, some of the ways in which insurers and banks traditionally used to generate profits in the financial markets were no longer available to them. In turn, they were forced to focus on optimizing the value realized from their customer operations, which is exactly what we were able to offer them. Since we remained focused on these core competencies, we were ready with the solutions they needed and poised to capitalize on this growing demand.”

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Additional lessons learned (or re-learned) in 2010

Here are a few additional lessons learned from our recent work and conversations with some very smart marketers (see previous post).

1. Nail it before you scale it

This age-old phrase is one of those things that we all need to be reminded of from time to time. Since we have already invested blood, sweat, and our egos in our idea, there is a great temptation to just run with it, especially if we just raised some money. So here are the key questions we should ask very early on:
  • Do we know who will buy our product?
  • Are these people jumping up and down when they hear about it?
  • More importantly, how much will they be willing to pay for it?

The answers have to come from real buyers, not our own “make wish” personas. If the answer to any of the above is unclear, we need to go back to the drawing board before we spend any additional time or money on product development, marketing, or sales.

Elementary, but so hard to do…

For more about it, read Early Stage Marketing.


2. Get sales and marketing on the same page (literally)

Salespeople love to complain about the leads they get from marketing. Just as much, marketing people love to complain that sales don’t follow up on the leads they pass to them. The problem is they are both right.

Panaya is addressing the problem head-on with a written contract between marketing and sales that defines what constitutes a qualified lead. The contract is revisited each quarter to ensure that everybody is still on the same page.

There are three functions that help make it work:

  • Lead qualification criteria and rules that reflect the contract are built into the company’s salesforce.com system
  • Automated lead scoring (using Marketo) is helping everybody focus on the more qualified leads
  • But not everything can be automated. Most important in my mind is the sales development function, which identifies real decision makers and opportunities, then passes them to sales.

See here for more ideas on marketing and sales alignment.


3. Use content to fuel the marketing machine

All the companies we know that are doing a great job generating a consistent stream of sales leads have one thing in common: they all invest in generating quality content.

The content is used to engage potential buyers and keep the conversation with them alive, through both outbound and inbound marketing. It doesn’t have to be related to the solution; but it does have to provide value to the reader.

The concept is simple: offer high-quality, broad-interest content to attract new leads and re-engage existing contacts, then feed these inquiries into the “lead machine” described above (lead scoring + a lead development team) to qualify and convert into sales opportunities.

According to SAManage CEO Doron Gordon, the importance of having lots of content is evident from the path visitors take on the company’s website. Visitors usually start with the blog and can visit as many as ten different pages before they register for a free trial or another offer (SAManage provides SaaS-based IT Service and Asset Management).

Some good content offer examples:

Any lessons you can share? Feel free to comment or send me a note.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Lessons learned from our clients: When is it time to change your demand generation strategy?

Panaya is a great success story. The company’s SaaS solutions help SAP customers automate their ERP upgrades and save thousands of hours in the process.

When Panaya first started marketing its solution, the challenge was to get the word out as quickly as possible, says Chief Marketing Officer Amit Bendov.

Amit and his team orchestrated an aggressive direct marketing program, using rental email lists that targeted SAP directors. A highly qualified phone sales team was hired to follow up on the leads generated.

Panaya’s value proposition is extremely compelling. Not less important, it is really easy to prove, and the solution requires near-zero implementation effort. With these assets in place, the number of deals closed kept growing at a double-digit pace quarter after quarter.

By the beginning of 2010, the company had several hundreds of customers. Despite these impressive results, Amit knew that sustaining this growth would require a different approach.

Realizing that going after the low hanging fruit could not support Panaya’s growth targets forever, Amit has refocused his team on a new strategy. With a well-defined target of SAP customers, the Panaya team has reoriented itself to methodically reach the 30,000 companies that make up this universe.

Instead of working on Leads, the Panaya sales development people now work on Accounts and Contacts. Within each account, contacts are classified into three categories—decision makers, influencers, and irrelevant.

“We had so many leads we couldn’t see the forest from the trees,” says Amit. “Once the list was reorganized into accounts and contacts, we could see which accounts we were missing or where we didn’t have the right level contacts.” A research team is now focused on identifying the missing accounts and contacts so they could be added to the house list and targeted by the sales team.

“With this systematic process in place, we can clearly see how many accounts we are touching each week and what is our level of engagement at each account,” says Amit. “We have much better visibility into our entire sales and marketing funnel from the very early stages. We can have 20 different leads from one account, and each one on its own may not be qualified enough. Now we can see that 20 people from the same company are showing interest, so we can take action on that.”

What Panaya is doing makes a lot of sense. They are not the first company to employ an account-based strategy. What I find notable is that they didn’t wait for things to get bad. They had the insight to recognize that their success had brought them to a new growth stage that required a different approach, and they acted on it. Way to go!


Related article: Reverse Engineer Your Marketing


Sunday, October 11, 2009

Gartner: stifling innovation

I recently came across a (not so new) Gartner Magic Quadrant report, which reminded me why some analysts just don’t get it in my mind. I have removed any identifying information, but basically this is what the report says:

Niche vendors are offering new technology in the market…These vendors include risk aspects such as small reference bases and vendor capitalization issues. Organizations that embrace a higher level of risk should seek compensation in the form of discount, and even extended pilot implementations with below-average prices for support during the pilot period.

Gartner prides itself on serving the user community, so what’s wrong with this statement?

The problem I have with this statement is that it represents short-term, narrow-guided thinking. It is understood that not every organization is willing to trust a solution that has a limited track record of success. That’s fine. But at the end of the day, we all need innovation, even the laggards. If you don’t have the stomach to adopt a new solution, that’s absolutely legitimate. But if you are willing to take the risk of new technology in anticipation of bigger rewards and an early adopter advantage, please don’t try to squeeze an innovator (in many cases a cash-strapped startup) for a few less dollars. Remember, you want this vendor to be successful, right?

What Gartner says here promotes the notion that vendors such as Microsoft, Oracle, and SAP should be able to charge a premium for their track record (which is rather dubious in many cases), while startups that may have a better solution should settle for lower margins or even a loss. This attitude only encourages market stagnation, which doesn’t serve anyone except the incumbents.

So, my call to the Gartner and other analysts is: your job is to help your clients understand the solution landscape, not to shape it! Telling clients to squeeze new vendors on pricing is bad service to the industry and bad service to your clients.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Lessons from the Obama Campaign

Just heard a great presentation given by David Plouffe, Obama's Campaign Manager at the Digital Marketing World virtual conference. Here are the keys to success based on his presentation:
  1. Keep a consistent message
  2. Repeat the message
  3. Reach out to people through multiple channels (web, e-mail, text, twitter, etc.)
  4. Use “real people” (i.e. not your standard company spokespeople) to deliver your message
  5. Make information available: there is no such thing as too much information
  6. Don’t be afraid to innovate
  7. Measure everything you can
Simple, well-known, but it works!

Monday, January 19, 2009

A Different Kind of Marketing

Today I participated in a kickoff meeting for a pro bono project I have signed up for through the Taproot Foundation, an organization that matches the needs of non-profit organizations with volunteering professionals. I will be working with four other marketing professionals to help the Whittier Street Health Center in Boston to rebuild its website in order to better serve the community while supporting its fundraising goals.

We were all very excited to get started on the project. Coincidently but very fitting, it was the day that President-Elect Obama called on all Americans to volunteer for community service. We were also highly impressed with how well the Taproot Foundation equipped us for the project. We have a complete blueprint for the entire project, with great templates for everything we need to do from project plans to website wireframe diagrams. Definitely better organized than anything I’ve ever worked with!

If you are looking for a volunteering opportunity that will allow you to leverage your skills while working with a team of fellow professionals, I highly recommend you check out the Taproot Foundation.


"Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?' "
--the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Marketing in a Downturn

The first thing that comes to mind when you think about marketing during an economic downturn is why bother. Nobody buys anyways, so why do we need any marketing?

On a second thought, is this really the case?

We now know that the US has been in a recession since the end of 2007. Does it mean that nobody bought anything? Not really. From the small sample of software companies I am aware of, most have done pretty well. Even now that the recession word is out, companies are still closing a good amount of 2008 business. And this holds even in market segments that are making headlines littered with words such as “crisis”, “losses”, “slumping”, and their synonyms.

So while I agree that we all have to be cautious with our spending as we plan for 2009, we also have to be careful not to bring about our own demise by shutting down our marketing presence.

So what should a software marketer do?

First order of business is to use this opportunity to become more efficient and effective in your marketing operations. Marketing is one area where you don’t necessarily get what you pay for. You can pay a lot of money for things that don’t get you much, and you can do many things that cost very little yet have a huge impact.

For years, advertising and tradeshows have been my two poster children for ineffective marketing. Guess what? They still are, because companies are still spending too much money on them.

Take tradeshows for example. The cost of exhibiting in a tradeshow keeps going up, especially when you consider the travel costs involved. All this while the returns keep going down, as buyers are cutting back on their own travel expenses.

At the same time, there are many more inexpensive ways to reach buyers at our disposal today than ever before.

There are many things you can do to make sure you get the most out of your marketing budget, but if I had to pick my top three “getting ready for 2009” initiatives, they would be the following:
  1. Fine-tune your website

  2. Your website is the key to marketing effectiveness. You want to make sure that your message is not only crystal clear but also tuned to the concerns of your buyers given the current economic climate (although you don’t want to overreact to it).

    Speaking of your website, you can spend a lot of money on fancy search engine optimization (SEO), but you can do some pretty amazing things with a low cost SEO effort that will drive more relevant traffic to your website.

  3. Communicate often

  4. Use your e-mail list to continue communicating with your market. Make sure you deliver value in your messages. This is something that is always true, but even more important when many are not necessarily in the mood for buying right now. Use (and reuse) educational material to keep the conversation alive and maintain top-of-mind awareness so buyers turn to you when budgets free up (and they will!)

  5. Use “old” and “new” media to spread the word

  6. PR is no longer about reaching the press. It is also no longer reserved just for “big news.” You can use your PR to bypass the traditional media and reach your buyers directly, and you can do it with very high frequency at extremely low cost (see a good example). In addition, you can use “old” media like blogs and “new” ones like twitter to reach your buyers through multiple opt-in vehicles and communicate your messages even more frequently.


But so far we only discussed defense. Now let’s move to offense.

How about taking advantage of this downturn to gain ground on your competition? If you can maintain or even increase your market presence, you may be able to move ahead of competitors that are cutting back and are not as effective as you are with their marketing spend. This may be a good time for competitive upgrades and other offers directed at the competition’s soft belly. And remember: they can do the same to you if you cut back too much or if you don’t make the most out of your marketing budget.

Post a comment and let me know how you are handling your 2009 marketing budget. And check out our no-risk offer to help you fine-tune your 2009 marketing budget.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Selling to the Middle?

Much has been written about selling to the top. Here is one more evidence why you should. A recent McKinsey research finds that middle managers often have difficulty balancing new ideas with current priorities and therefore have negative attitudes towards innovation. If you are selling an innovative solution or one that requires the buying organizations to change the way they do business, middle managers will often be your opposition. Even if you find a middle manager who does support innovation, you would need the support of top management to overcome potential resistance from your supporter's peers.

 

Sunday, February 03, 2008

B-to-B Branding Revisited

Pragmatic Marketing features an interesting and thought-provoking post by David Meerman Scott titled Branding is for Cattle. While I agree that the notion of branding in the context of technology marketing is often misunderstood, dismissing branding altogether is the easy way out. Branding is still important; the challenge is finding a way to make it relevant in the context of technology marketing.

Branding is not about glossy print ads. It’s not about logos and colors. It’s about creating a connection between companies and buyers. It’s about communicating value. It’s about the consistency of focusing on the customer through every interaction.

Here is the real question in my mind: can branding help sales? If done right, I think it can. Read this article to see how.

What is your take?

 

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The killer demo: why demos are killing your sales

We’ve all heard about the killer demo. The team comes back from a sales meeting and reports how great the demo went and how impressed the viewers were: “They really loved it! They were floored… they just cannot wait to get their hands on it!”

A month later, the sale seems nothing but dead. Your salesperson is shaking his head: “I don’t really know what happened; they loved the demo but they are not returning my calls.”

The demo indeed was a killer; it killed your sale.

There are four main reasons a demo can be such a sale killer:
  1. You talk instead of asking questions and letting the customer talk

  2. There are probably hundreds of books that have been written on this subject, so I won’t waste your time stating the obvious.

  3. The people interested in the demo are usually not the people that can buy

  4. While getting buy-in from the intended user is important, the key to making the sale is reaching the decision makers. Most decision makers are not interested in the details. They want to know how you’re going to solve their business problems, not how your screens look like. Many of them wouldn’t even know what to look for in the demo. If the person you are dealing with is asking to see a demo that’s a clear red flag.

  5. You are showing them something that you don’t know they need

  6. There is no doubt that before you close the sale you will have to show a demo of the software. The question is when. If you didn’t spend enough time understanding the customer’s issues, the demo you are showing could be a great solution to the wrong problem.

  7. If they don’t like the demo they will walk away

  8. By showing the demo too early, you could lose the line of communication with the prospect before you had a chance to reach the decision makers, understand their needs, and explain how your solution could help them. The lower-level people you have been communicating with now think they have seen it all; they are now moving on to the next demo or the next problem they are trying to solve. Sooner or later they stop returning your calls.

So what can you do?

It’s actually quite simple. All you have to do is institute the three rules of the game:
  • There is no demo until there is a clear understanding of the needs

  • There is no demo until there is a clear identification of the decision makers

  • There is no demo until there is a clear agreement on the decision process
If your salespeople are having a hard time making the adjustment, give them some role playing training and some lines to work with, such as:

“We’d be happy to show you our software. It may take us many hours/days to show you everything the software can do, so before I spend your valuable time I would like to make sure that what we show you is relevant to the business issues you are trying to address.”

There are always exceptions to the rules. If you sell low-cost software that is really simple and easy to work with, showing the software could be the best way to sell it. If that’s the case, you should bypass the demo altogether and provide a free trial. That’s a topic for another post, though.

Why is all this important to you, the marketer?

By the end of the day, if the leads you generate don’t translate to sales, your marketing effort was a waste. Every campaign you embark on should have a clear plan for how sales will follow-up on the responses. Make sure the follow-up leads to a meaningful conversation to identify needs, decision makers, and the decision process--not a killer demo!

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Six Keys to Lead-Generation Success

This article was recently published in MarketingProf.com.


Lead generation is an important function, yet one of the least understood and most mismanaged in many organizations. Why is that so, and what can you do to put in place a best-in-class lead generation program?

Here are six keys to success that I have formulated over years of working with B2B companies to get lead generation right.

1. Get sales and marketing on the same page

Lead generation is a strange animal. It is usually executed and owned by Marketing, yet its success is really judged by Sales. When you go to the board meeting, you can show how great your programs are and how many leads have been generated, but if the sales VP says your leads are no good, that's what the board will hear.

For a lead-generation program to be successful, its goals must be clearly agreed upon by both organizations. That's not an easy task, but it's doable. The agreement between Marketing and Sales ought to spell out which leads should be passed to Sales and which should remain with Marketing.

To reach an agreement, both sides must make an effort to leave their fixations behind. Marketing has to realize that salespeople care only about leads that are ready to engage in the sales process. At any given time, the amount of leads that should be passed to Sales is probably no more than 5-15% of all leads generated.

At the same time, Sales expectations must be realistic and match market reality. In an early market, Sales should not be looking for leads that have well-defined needs, budget, and authority. There are just not enough of them out there. Your salespeople must be willing and equipped to start the sales process with prospects that have a latent need and work them to the point they are ready to buy.

2. Offer content that delivers value to buyers

People love buying but hate to be sold. Naturally, they are suspicious of anything that smells like a sales pitch. They are looking for credible sources to help them make an informed decision. They want to be educated, and if possible even entertained—two things that can be rarely achieved by your typical sales pitch.

So rather than telling them how great your product is and offering them brochures and datasheets, you can help buyers get educated by enlisting the help of more credible third-party sources, such as industry experts and analysts.

The most obvious and credible source you can use is your existing customers. Customer success stories are always effective, but some are more powerful than others. Make sure the story describes the problem that the customer is solving with your solution. Try to get into the details so readers get a real flavor for the problem and how it is solved. If the story sounds like an infomercial, you lose credibility. Use the customer voice as much as possible. Make the customer the hero, not your product.

Once you have the story written, get it placed in an industry publication. Publications are usually hungry for content, and it will carry much greater credibility in the eyes of your prospects.

3. Put in place the process and tools

Lead generation is a process, not a once-and-done project. Just like your salespeople can't stop selling, you cannot stop filling up their pipeline with new opportunities to pursue. And just like you cannot time the stock market, you cannot time the sales process.

You need to constantly reach out to each prospect, so when the time comes for them to start the evaluation process they have you at the top of their minds. You want to contact each prospect at least once a month, preferably 2-3 times. Don't worry about overdoing it. As long as your content delivers value, your prospects will appreciate it. And the few that will opt out probably wouldn't have been be buyers anytime soon anyway.

Frequent use of your list gives you an opportunity to optimize your response and conversion rates over time to make the most out of each outbound campaign. You can and should continually optimize the message, the format, the day and time you send your messages, and how you segment your list.

Touching each prospect 2-3 times each month means that you need a good database to manage your prospect data. You cannot manage all this activity without some automation.

That doesn't mean everything has to be automated from day one and in a single system. Rather than rushing to pay big bucks for an all-encompassing system that automates everything, first figure out the process, then put in place the systems to support it.

You might start with a collection of a few small systems stitched together by some manual steps before you know what you really need and are ready to invest in a more complex, enterprise-type system. It is important that you figure out how the system can help you connect Marketing and Sales and whether the two organizations will use a single system or two separate but integrated systems.

4. Ensure timely follow-up

Many good lead-generation efforts go to waste due to poor follow-up. Some research shows that if left up to Sales, up to 90% of the leads would never be followed up. A "hot" lead that is not followed up in a timely manner will cool down very quickly—some studies show that response rates to a follow-up call can diminish by 50% if you wait just 48 hours, and as much as 90% if you wait a whole week.

The number-one problem with lead follow-up is ownership. Marketing assumes that Sales will do it, while salespeople are too busy closing deals and chasing their own prospects. They also don't trust the quality of Marketing's leads and often see them as a waste of time.

The success of your follow-up is tightly related to the alignment between Marketing and Sales. Once salespeople are confident that the leads they get are ready for a sales conversation, they are more likely to follow up on these leads and can be held accountable for it.

To make sure they get only the leads that match your criteria, you need a way to qualify all incoming leads. You can collect qualifying information in your registration forms, although in many cases a follow-up call to verify some information would still be required. This could be the job of Inside Sales, but it works better if you have a special lead-development function that reports to Marketing.

5. Have the metrics to measure success

Your metrics should reflect the three steps that lead up to sales, which are reach, response, and conversion: how many people you reach, how many of them respond, and how many of these responses you are able to move to the next stage in the sales cycle.

Most marketing departments do a decent job of measuring reach and response. Once you have an agreement that leads should be passed to Sales, measuring conversion becomes relatively straightforward as well.

Not every campaign will generate the same numbers. Some campaigns have a broader reach and response with lower conversion rates; others are more focused but generate higher conversion rates. For example, you might have a whitepaper campaign that will generate many responses from early-stage leads, and follow it up with an evaluation offer to a smaller portion of the database that will get a lower response but higher conversion rate.

As long as you define a clear goal for each campaign, you can design a mix that will address all three metrics and allow you to measure the results against your goals.

6. Find your lead-gen champion

As with everything, it all boils down to people. You need people who are dedicated to lead generation. They need to have the right set of skills to manage lead generation. And they have to be passionate about it.

Most companies have no problem hiring additional salespeople but fail to staff the lead-generation function adequately. The truth is that finding people with expertise in lead generation is still tough. Most people that are looking for marketing positions think of themselves as the creative types, while lead generation is 70% process and 30% creativity; so you might have to go outside the traditional marketing talent pool to find your lead-generation champion.

Why do organizations fail?

Your lead-generation program is only as strong as your weakest link. If any of the above is missing, your entire program will be compromised.

* * *

From what I have seen, not many organizations are able to master these keys to success. At the end of the day, it all comes back to the fact that most senior managers still don't have a good grasp of lead generation. They may understand sales, they may understand marketing, but lead generation is a strange animal that requires specific expertise, which most of them still lack.

The good news is that lead generation is a discipline that can be learned; so if you can recruit one expert, either as an employee or a consultant, she or he can pass the knowledge to others and help you build a best-in-class lead-generation program.

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